Sunday, December 23, 2007

Jewish => Judeanish?

The view that "Jew" is a mistranslation seems to be popular amongst scholars at moment. Apparently the word should be "Judean". Now that's fine with me, so I'm changing my writing to stop using "Jew" terminology and I'm replacing it with "Judean" instead.

The problem comes though when I hit "Jewish". What is the new form of that word?

Apparently Richard Horsley uses "Judhite". But is a person seeing that word really going to have a clue what it means, especially if I write for a popular audience rather than a scholarly one?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Jesus' Parables: Two Interpretations

Many of Jesus' parable stories involve a powerful person. Each of these parables has essentially two possible interpretations, depending on who the hearer identifies the powerful person as:
1) God.
2) Unjust humans.
Each interpretation leads to quite a different meaning to the parable.

A common theme I've noticed in recent scholarship on the parables is to argue that modern Christians and/or the gospel writers often interpret parables as having meaning (1), when in fact Jesus more likely intended the parable to have meaning (2).

The parable most often cited an a clear example of this is the Parable of the Talents. In the traditional Christian reading, the lord is God who gives to his servants differing levels of abilities and lets them make what they will of them. God then judges everyone at the end of time and rewards them based on what use they made of the gifts given to them, and he also destroys anyone who didn't acknowledge him as their king.

However recent scholarship seems to almost unanimously be of the view that in fact the ruler in the parable is meant to depict an unjust rich human ruler, who expects his servants to exploit others in order to make him more money because he is greedy, and who crushes those who rightly protest against him. Reading 1 thus sees the parable's theme as "make good use of the gifts God has given you", while reading 2 sees it as a critique of greedy and unjust human rulers and a warning about what happens to those who directly challenge such people.

Interestingly, it turns out that in the parables that depict a main lord, master, ruler or farmer figure as focus of the parable, can be read either with reading 1 or 2 and a plausible meaning extracted from them. The question this raises then, is which is the correct or intended meaning? (or are both equally plausible and true?)

A lot of scholars whose interest lies in studying Jesus' ministry against its socio-historical context seem extremely confident that the original meaning is almost always reading 2 and that the gospels err quite often in the explanations they provide for the parables (since they usually favour reading 1).

I'm not quite sure what to think on this. I find a lot of the reading 2 constructions quite interesting and socio-historically seem very plausible, but I am hesitant to out-and-out affirm that the gospels are absolutely wrong in their provided interpretations of certain parables.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

James' Dunn's NPP essay online

James Dunn's famous 1983 essay The New Perspective on Paul is now available online.

It's a very worthwhile read. (Though it requires knowledge of covenantal nomism to make sense)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Cup that's not of God's wrath

But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" (Mark 10:38)
It appears to be becoming a popular argument in Evangelical circles that the presence of the word "cup" here implies or proves Penal Substitution.

Now you might well ask how any sane person could possibly reason their way from the word "cup" to the doctrine of Penal Substitution. Well, apparently the "logic" goes that in several passages in the Old Testament prophets they speak of "the cup of God's wrath", and therefore Jesus' use of the word "cup" refers to God's wrath, and therefore he is expecting to take God's wrath upon himself as a Penal Substitute.

Such ridiculously tenuous logic seems like a bad joke. It reminds me of Liam Goligher's equally stellar claim in The Jesus Gospel that a reference to the herb hyssop in one of the psalms proves Penal Substitution. Yet this "logic" is used by people including NT Wright (The Challenge of Jesus, 87; Matthew for Everyone, 60-61), Thomas Schreiner (The Nature of the Atonement: Four Views, 91) and the writers of Pierced For Our Transgressions (68-70). More than one of these cites Bolt's The Cross from a Distance (69-71) as source of this idea.

Apart from the wholly unconvincing and ridiculously tenuous logic, there are two main problems with such a claim. The first problem is that the Bible uses the word "cup" as a metaphor for a fate, which can be either a positive or negative fate. A few examples of a positive fate include:
The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. (Psa 16:5)
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. (Psa 23:5)
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord (Psa 116:13)
Similarly a couple of examples of a negative fate include:
On the wicked he will rain coals of fire and sulfur; a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. (Psa 11:6)
A cup of horror and desolation is the cup of your sister Samaria (Ezek 23:33)
People God is wrathful towards do, unsurprisingly, experience a negative fate, and cup language is sometimes used to describe this fate. However the use of the cup metaphor itself is not limited to God's wrath and hence the word "cup" does not mean "suffering God's wrath".

The second, and most important problem with the claim, is the verse that follows Mark 10:38:
The disciples replied, "We are able." Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; (Mark 10:39)
Here Jesus explicitly says they will drink the same cup as himself. If the "cup" he is drinking from means "Penal Substitution", then the disciples must also be participating in Penal Substitution. Yet this bizarre conclusion shows that the exegesis being proposed for verse 38 is ridiculous.

The craziest thing of all is that the writers of Pierced For Our Transgressions are aware of verse 39 and hence know the exegesis of verse 38 they are proposing is ludicrous. Yet they comment in a footnote: "Jesus' point [in vs 39] is that their sufferings will be patterned on his, not that they will be identical in every respect. Neither James nor John will die under God's wrath in place of others." So it seems that when they feel like it, "cup" means "Penal Substitution", and a verse later, when it's no longer convenient with their theology the same cup suddenly stops being Penal Substitution. I just can't fathom the stupidity...

Friday, December 14, 2007

Not a Christian?

Because someone recommended them to me, I listened yesterday to a few Theology Unplugged podcasts. (I didn't think they were that great and won't be listening to any more of them. I found them too biased towards Reformed theology) A few things they said made me laugh somewhat though, here's one:

A series of two podcasts was about the definition of 'Christian', and what a person needs to believe before it is accurate to apply the label of 'Christian' to them, as compared to those who call themselves a 'Christian' for no good reason. I was intrigued to hear one of speakers give a fairly succinct summary of my view of the New Testament's theology: That Jesus lived a life that pleased God, and therefore if we imitate Jesus' life we too will similarly be able to be called please God and be called righteous. (See, for example, Paul on the Cross: Reconstructing the Apostle's Story of Redemption by David Brondos for a detailed scholarly analysis of why this is Paul's soteriological view) Anyway, they all agreed that such a view is by definition not 'Christian', and apparently anyone who holds such a view and gives themselves the label Christian is simply kidding themselves. So, sorry, St Paul... it's decided: You don't qualify as a "Christian".

By the same token these guys decided that most Catholics could not be called Christians since they don't hold to Salvation by Faith Alone. Apparently you need to actually believe in salvation by faith alone to be saved, rather than merely have faith. (Because I personally would argue, that if you believe in salvation by faith alone, therefore anyone who has both faith and works [as the Catholics think you should] must by definition be saved because they have faith.)

Another of the podcasts touched on atonement doctrine. They were agreeing that penal substitution was new in the 11th century and that the Ransom from Satan view had been taught prior to that. But despite this, they were decided that the Ransom from Satan view was definitely heretical, and seemed to think it that holding it rather than penal substitution could have adverse effects on the salvation of the believer. (I often seem to get the impression from those of Reformed persuasions, rightly or wrongly, that very few people prior to the Reformation are going to heaven.)

But then, what would I know, since apparently I am by definition not a Christian. Oh well, at least I'm in good company, along with most Catholics, most people who thought they were 'Christians' prior to the 11th century, St Paul, and apparently the Calvinist scholar Michael Bird.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Pistis Christou: An Adjectival Genitive

The Pistis Christou debate has almost exclusively focused on debating whether it is a subjective or objective genitive. Now obviously there are more types of genitive than this, but virtually zero articles on the subject seem to devote any thought to these other possibilities.

It has long been my view that Pistis Christou is an adjectival genitive. That is to say that the genitive Christou is acting as an adjective, and thus essentially means "Christ-like".

Pistis Christou = Christ-like faithfulness

An example in English is "He's got the courage of a lion and the strength of Samson." Here the genitives function as adjectives qualifying the main nouns and mean 'lion-like' courage and 'Samson-like' strength.

A simple table categorizing the objective, subjective and adjectival interpretations of Pistis Christou is helpful:

Genitive typeWho has faithfulnessObject of faithfulness

From this table we can see that the adjectival genitive shares common features with both the subjective and objective genitives. It makes humans the ones having faith like the objective genitive and God the target of their faith like the subjective genitive.

Since the adjectival genitive is essentially a hybrid in this way it can incorporate and explain evidence for both the subjective and objective genitive viewpoints. For example, in the discussion An Evening Conversation on Jesus and Paul between James Dunn and NT Wright, Dunn says he believes that the evidence points to humans having the faith and Wright says he believes the the evidence points to God being the object of the faith, and therefore they each take their evidence as proof respectively of objective and subjective views. From the table we see that both observations agree with the adjectival view.

More importantly, what I consider to be the single strongest piece of evidence in the entire pistis Christou debate fits only with the adjectival view, and does not fit with either the subjective or objective views (and thus is generally ignored). This is the parallel between Romans 3:26 and 4:16:
Rom 4:16 tw ek pistews Abraam

Rom 3:26 tov ek pistews Christou
This almost exact parallel in structure and wording occurs only half a chapter after Paul's heavy use of pistis Christou. All major bible versions unanimously translate 4:16 as "those who share the faith of Abraham", because the context of 4:16 is quite restrictive in clearly determining the meaning - it demands an adjectival interpretation and permits neither the subjective nor objective reading. The verbal identity of the parallel implies that Rom 3:26 should be read as "those who share the faith of Christ", ie as an adjectival genitive.

Another similar parallel is comes from Paul's talk about us having the mind of Christ (ie Christ-like minds). In Phil 2:5f he encourages the Christians to "have the same mind in you that was in Jesus Christ". And in 1 Cor 2:16 he says that we have Christ-like minds:
1 Cor 2:16 noun Christou exomen - "we have the mind of Christ"
This is an example of Paul using Christou to qualify a noun, and Christou being an adjectival genitive. In this way pistis Christou exomen would mean that we have Christ-like faith.

I believe that the adjectival reading of pistis Christou is superior to either the objective or subjective readings. Obviously I have only covered a small proportion of the arguments regarding pistis Christou in this post, but it is my experience that the adjectival genitive deals consistently well with the evidence and is able to account for data that each of the other theories count in their favor. As we have seen the adjectival reading also accounts for key data that neither the subjective nor objective readings can explain. Key parallels with Paul's use elsewhere demonstrate the adjectival genitive to be Paul's likely meaning.

Finally I have two questions. What is the best translation for the adjectival genitive: Is it better to talk of "Christ-like faithfulness" or a person who "shares the faithfulness of Christ" or who "has a level of faithfulness like that which Christ himself had"? Secondly, is 'adjectival genitive' the best and clearest name for the type of genitive I am trying to advocate it as being? (I'm far from an expert on naming genitive types!)

Friday, December 07, 2007

The New Perspective is not so new

In Martin Luther's commentary on Galatians he accuses most of the church before him of holding New Perspective views:
Here again I warn that Paul is not speaking about the Ceremonial Law, as the sophists continually imagine. Origen and Jerome were the originators of this error. They were extremely dangerous teachers on this point; all the scholastics followed them, and in our day Erasmus approves and confirms their error. (1535 Commentary on Galatians, 2:21)
In his commentary, Luther pays a great deal of attention to dealing with this interpretation, and seems to see it as the traditional view. I am surprised that so little attention has been paid in the New Perspective on Paul debate to the presence of NPP views among the early church fathers. I have not seen any comprehensive analysis given by any scholar on the topic.

I have haphazardly over the course of time (and with the assistance of others) collected a list of relevant and semi-relevant references myself. Here's my far-from-comprehensive list:

Held 'New' Perspective on Paul:
Irenaeus, Against Heresy Book 4, Ch 13-16
Ambrosiater, Commentary on Romans
Pelagius, Commentary on Romans
(Less clear:)
Justin Martyr, Dialogue Ch 10-11
Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 6:6
Ignatius, Magnesians 8
Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 4:33

Held 'Old' Perspective on Paul:
Origen, Commentary on Romans
Jerome, Epistle 133, 8
John Chrysostom (He can seem quite pro-NPP sometimes though: eg Homilies on Galatians, ch 1)

Interestingly, from this list we can see that Luther's claim that Origen and Jerome taught this is incorrect. It seems that Luther simply disliked them so he pinned this 'error' on them.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Circumcision is self-righteousness?

James McGrath has a good post on the New Perspective, in which he makes the highly worthwhile observation:
Paul keeps coming back to one particular work of the Law: circumcision. But few seem to notice that this is probably the least appropriate ‘work of the Law’ for him to choose to represent or symbolize self-justification and self-righteousness.
I have commented in the past on a similar thing with regard to Philippians 3:
When we look at the description of Judaism he gives we find that half of what he says has nothing whatsoever to do with human effort or striving to attain righteousness, but rather is about his Jewish birth
It's just so clear, time and again that what Paul is talking about is being Judean and following Judean customs, not attempts to gain favor with God through moral self-righteousness.

James McGrath goes on to note that in exegeting Galatians, the old perspective starts turning to custard when it gets to the last couple of chapters. There Paul, after writing his virulent attacks against works of the law, turns round and says "I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do [evil] things will not inherit the kingdom of God." (5:21), "so let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap [eternal life], if we do not give up." (6:9) After spending five chapters denying, attacking and lambasting works-righteousness (according to the old perspective), Paul suddenly turns round and not only endorses it, but buys the t-shirt as well.

Nor is this behavior confined to Galatians. In my post on Philippians 3 I noted:
Then when we look at the description of his Christian life that follows we find the entire passage is about striving to achieve righteousness and 'win' the race, and exerting all possible effort. So far from a Judaism of "effort" being contrasted with a Christian "lack of effort and reliance on grace". [Paul, in fact] discusses a Judaism that relies as much on grace as it does on effort and a Christianity that relies totally on effort.
Either Paul is schizophrenic or the old perspective is wrong, it's as simple as that.

Faith and Works in the ECFs

One popular way of reconciling justification by faith with judgment by works is to appeal to Augustine's double-justification scheme, whereby at conversion we are justified by faith then live subsequent spirit-empowered lives of holiness and are at the final judgment judged on our deeds.

My own interest lies in the pre-Nicene Fathers' theology, rather than Augustine's (which is very different on most issues). Offhand, I cannot think of any evidence in any of the pre-Nicene writers to suggest they held to Augustine's double-justification scheme. So how do the pre-Nicene writers reconcile faith and works? Unfortunately that's not a question that's very easy to answer.

Universally in pre-Nicene writers, a strong belief in a final and eternal judgment by works is attested to. It is stated multiple times in most surviving documents and never denied. It is listed time and again as one of the major and basic tenets of Christianity.

Mention of justification by faith however is quite erratic. It is generally not mentioned very often. The Shepherd of Hermas, the longest document of the Apostolic Fathers, is all about judgment by works and just doesn't mention faith. Justin Martyr time and again repeats there will be a final judgment according to our good or bad deeds, and then just occasionally uses the word "faith" where one has come to expect him to say "works". First Clement emphasizes the importance of good works and how a doctrine of final judgment by works is to be taught to Christian children.

The majority of writers of this period follow Justin Martyr's style: Most of the time a final judgment by works is heavily emphasized, but on random occasion this will be swapped with justification by faith without warning, as if there was no substantial difference between the two. This leads me to believe that by and large the ECFs saw them as in some way virtually equivalent or synonymous (the alternative thesis being that they just had no clue about how to reconcile faith and works so swapped arbitrarily between them in a cognitively dissonant way).

The theory that seems to me to make most sense out of what they say, is to see faithfulness as the underlying heart attitude which works flow from and that God judges our heart not our actions per se. Thus they can talk about the doing of good deeds, having the right heart, being a good person, and being faithful to God interchangeably as ways of speaking about the heart and character of a person which is what God judges.

Another line of evidence to follow is that there is to some degree a clear demarcation between those who only talk about works, and those who use "faith" regularly. Now if you are willing to hypothetically consider an opposition between Paul and James within the New Testament on the subject of faith vs works, you could potentially construe the second century writers as following one or the other of these traditions and thus see a serious rift dividing the Christian theology of the second century into two camps. (The division within the second century documents is even more severe than what is found within the NT.) But there is no documentary evidence that Christians in the second century ever got into any arguments with each other on faith vs works issues, no suggestion that any such lines were drawn within orthodoxy. Furthermore, the group of writers who do use 'faith' terminology also use works terminology regularly. But if we want to deny any massive rift within orthodoxy, we have to really conclude that the theology of the authors that didn't use the word faith is substantially identical to the theology of the authors that do. Therefore, we'd want to conclude: Whatever the authors using the word faith meant by it, their ideas and theology could be expressed in language that talked about works without substantial loss of meaning. In other words, we'd conclude that faith and works have some sort of pretty compatible and substantially similar meaning.

So, when I read scholarly word studies about how pistis ("faith") was actually used in ancient times and find them concluding that it generally meant things like loyal obedience and faithfulness, I'm inclined to think "case closed, problem solved: 'faith' when you translate it right means something pretty synonymous with works, and that's why the pre-Nicene Fathers are generally happy to swap between them or use one or the other."

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Carson reviews VanLandingham's work

Today I was looking through the Review of Biblical Literature list and saw there was a review of Chris VanLandingham's Judgment and Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul. I confess I got a bit excited upon seeing it.

In my view this is one of the best biblical studies books written in recent years, and I would put it along side EP Sanders' Paul and Palestinian Judaism in terms of thoroughness and quality of scholarship and importance. (Note that I have both minor and major disagreements with both these books, and bear in mind that VanLandingham is writing against Sanders)

I have been highly dissappointed by the reactions that VanLandingham's work has received from bloggers so far. Reactions have included "Oh my God, he denies Penal Substitution! Heretic! Can you believe someone would do that?", and someone who's only skimmed the book accusing VanLandingham of not saying the very things he does say. As a result I have been rolling my eyes a lot recently. So I was looking forward to reading a more sane review, by a respectable scholar writing for RBL...

...then I saw the reviewer was DA Carson. My eyes rolled. A frustrated sigh may well have escaped my lips. Whoops. It's a bit like inviting the Leader of the Opposition to publicly comment on the Government's latest policies... 'Biased' would be too mild a word for it. So, somewhat curious about just how bad it would get and doing my best ironic smile, I read the review.

In the first half, Carson summarizes VanLandingham's work, mostly by quoting the man himself and does a good job of it. Then he begins the second half by recounting a story about how some PHD students decide their thesis in advance and then study the data and force it to agree, and some study the data and then draw conclusions. While reading this I thought "well, VanLandingham talks about how long it took for a thesis topic to come together at the start of his book, so he's clearly more in the second group, so I wonder where Carson's going with this?" Carson however asserts that VanLandingham is one of those people who has formed his opinions in advance and tried to force-fit the data to the thesis, and the work was biased from the outset and the results worthless. I cracked up laughing. Carson is calling VanLandingham biased?! Carson is accusing someone else of forcing evidence to fit a thesis, and of biased scholarship? That's the blackest pot in town calling the kettle black if ever I saw it.

The remainder of the review is, somewhat amusingly, Carson comparing VanLandingham's findings against Carson's own conservative-Protestant anti-New Perspective beliefs, and systematically judging them based on how well they agree with Carson's beloved preconceived doctrine. Carson is happy to agree that Jews believed in the importance of works and that Jews at the time of the New Testament were advocates of works-righteousness (because of course Carson wants to believe those nasty Jewish taught works-righteousness which he wants to see Paul as attacking). Carson is not at all prepared to agree that this Jewish view is a reasonable interpretation of what the Old Testament says though (since Carson wants to see the Old Testament as agreeing with his own theology) so he refuses to accept VanLandingham's case that the Jews had understood their own scriptures in a reasonable manner.

Carson then gets hung up on the fact that VanLandingham implies in passing that he holds to Libertarian Free Will (Carson being a compatibilist). I rolled my eyes at Carson here, since this is an irrelevant tangent. VanLandingham's interpretation of Justification, which is really pretty similar to the Roman Catholic one and fairly well-evidenced, Carson dismisses in one sentence as "not sophisticated" (which made me frown in puzzlement). Apparently VanLandingham commits the cardinal sin of mentioning Paul's view of election without exegeting Carson's favorite verse (do I care? Hmm, no.). And then Carson writes something that made my mouth fall open and my eyes widen:
He does not see that in its context Rom 4:5 presupposes that Paul understands God’s “justification” of Abraham to be the justification of the wicked;
What the...? I'm sorry, but one of my fields of expertise is Romans 1-4 and let me just respond again to Carson's comment here: What?!? Romans 4 is about how Abraham was uncircumcised when he was justified, so the context of 4:5 is the justification of the uncircumcised not the morally wicked. Unless Carson wants to argue that Paul saw Abraham as a morally wicked person? (I can't think that even Carson would want to argue for that one) Apparently VanLandingham's findings don't fit well with Carson's idea of "grace" either (who would have thought it?) so he rejects this (mere evidence cannot of course hope to compete with Carson's faith).

Finally Carson makes some observations that are actually useful. He notes that the topic of reconciling justification by faith and judgment by works is an interesting and important one (hear, hear!), and he praises VanLandingham for his subject (though not, I note, for the obviously massive effort VanLandingham has put into this huge study). He observes that some of the details of the way VanLandingham has chosen to reconcile faith and works "approaches the bizarre" (I totally agree) and highlights the most obvious problem with VanLandingham's reconstruction accurately. But then just when the going was getting good he finishes by admitting that he didn't understand part of VanLandingham's view (a part which VanLandingham had clearly spelled out, so I'm left wondering whether Carson actually read the book properly).

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Three Ways

In all the many and various theological works I have read, attempts to reconcile the ideas of "justification by faith" and "judgment by works" have always boiled down to three basic options:

1) Get rid of one.
2) Hold that both are true, but are different events and criteria. (ie "faith" and "works" are different criteria, and one is judged at conversion and the other after death.)
3) Hold that both are true and the same thing. (ie the phrases "justification by faith" and "[positive] judgment by works" are synonymous because "faith" and "works" are synonyms as are "justification" and "positive judgment by God".)

Conservative Protestantism has historically opted for 1, saying that any judgment by works is about rewards but not eternal destinies, or saying that passages about a final eternal judgment by deeds are hypothetical and no one can actually live up to God's standard.

Many recent scholars have opted for option 2, arguing that justification by faith is an event that happens at conversion and that a judgment by works happens at the final eternal judgment. Thus people come to faith and are justified in the present, and will be judged by their works in the afterlife. The difficulty comes in making sense of this proposed double-justification scheme. The simplest way to do it is to say that to those who come to faith, God gives them the spirit and union with Christ which sanctifies them and empowers them to live a life pleasing to God which results in them passing the final judgment according to deeds. Virtually all modern Protestant scholars I have seen write on this subject, would opt for some variation of this view (eg NT Wright, EP Sanders, Garlington, VanLandingham, Yinger, Stanley, Bird, Rainbow) and it seems to have been Augustine's view and is also pretty much the modern Roman Catholic view.

The third option has been written off without due consideration, and I believe it is the correct one. I think the cause of its undue dismissal is that protestant tradition has attempted to define faith fundamentally over and against works, as meaning "belief and not doing". Yet all the recent linguistic studies of pistis have concluded that it means faithfulness, steadfast loyalty, and perseverance. Is it possible to be "faithful" to God without "doing" God's will? Hardly. But as soon as we say that faithfulness to God absolutely necessitates the doing of God's will, and employ the NPP observation that the "works of Law" being contrasted to "faithfulness" by Paul are "Judean customs" rather than "the doing of God's will", then the dichotomy between faithfulness and works melts away and Paul's theology turns into: "we are judged by God on our faithful obedience to God's will rather than the following the customs of Judea". Justification by faith and judgment by works collapse into a unity, all the difficult questions are answered, and the resultant theology is simple, coherent, and somewhat self-evident. While option 2 is based on Augustine's theology, I think option 3 coheres much better with the pre-Nicene Fathers.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Why are Calvinists / Reformed so divisive?

Scot McKnight has published a letter from a pastor asking for help with a small and vocal group of Calvinists in his church who are being divisive over theology and not prepared to live and let live. Over 200 reader comments have confirmed that a massive number of people have had the same experiences. Scot's response thread is similar, as is Denny Burk's thread.

My own experiences and observations over the years have been clear and unambiguous - people of Calvinist / Reformed persuasions are vastly, vastly, more prone to: vocal condemnations of what they perceive as inaccurate theology, extremely harsh criticism, uncompromising insistence on adherence to their doctrine, exclusion and rejection of those failing to adhere, extreme arrogance and condescension, ungraciousness, disinterest in learning about the views of others, unwillingness to tolerate others in love or compromise, relentlessness in zeal, venomous, promoting their own views as Truth and fighting against and eradicating others.

It appears to me that this has been a growing worldwide problem for some years now. One poster describes it aptly as "a war-time mentality", which I think really is insightful, and numerous posters blame John Piper for promoting such a mentality. I doubt it's Piper alone, but it does seem to be the case that modern Calvinist apologists are prone to preaching the need to "fight" for the gospel truth and "defend" it against those who would "attack" and undermine and deny "the central truths of the faith".

What interests me is the question of why they are acting this way. Is it something in their theology which naturally leads to this sort of behavior? Perhaps. I can think of a number of possible reasons offhand:
(1) Emphasis on the importance of humans doing nothing in salvation is going to lead to less Christ-likeness in the lives of believers.
(2) Emphasis on justification by faith alone has a tendency to be interpreted as justification by belief alone, which gets interpreted as "justified by correct beliefs", and hence extreme importance is placed on correct belief.
(3) Because the emphasis is on faith alone, their Christianity is only doctrine. So often among other Christians, Christianity is about how you live and doctrine is ignored. Whereas the emphasis on faith alone cuts off the rest of Christianity and hence doctrine must be contended for because it is the center and only part of the faith in a way that it is not for other Christians.
(4) Belief in predestination is likely to lead to less evangelism, and more focus on the saved - eg teaching them correct doctrine.
(5) Their belief in the lack on any innate value in humanity is more likely to result in disdain and a lack of love toward fellow humans.
(6) The doctrine of predestination is one that a large number of people find morally and emotionally repugnant on the grounds that it is unkind and unloving. People that accept such a doctrine are thus more likely to have greater acceptance of behaviors that other Christians consider unkind and unloving.
(7) The doctrine of predestination provides an example of God arbitrarily excluding and condemning people, when imitated among humans this leads to exclusive and divisive behavior.

One poster suggests that it is "as much about a culture as it is about a theological position" and that it is the culture of harsh criticism and exclusiveness within these groups that breeds its own. I can think of a few cultural, rather than theological reasons why this might be the case:
(A) Perhaps the origin of the doctrine during the period of turmoil and persecution in the Reformation has left this sub-culture with a war mentality? I'm inclined to doubt it could have lasted that long without other more important factors.
(B) The level of propaganda / indoctrination of members among Reformed churches seems to vastly outweigh anything among other denominations. Members are trained far more heavily in their tradition than what other Christian traditions do. The subsequent zealousness with which the members defend their faith is probably greatly a result of how well they understand their own tradition and how much they see it as their own.
(C) Similarly the culture in these churches seems to place a lot of emphasis on "preaching the gospel" to believers on an extremely regular basis. Most other denominations have no interest in preaching the gospel to believers. Thus "the truth of the gospel" becomes more important to these churches because they hear it often.
(D) Up until 30 years ago the vast majority of conservative biblical scholarship supported Calvinism, but in the last 30 years conservative biblical scholarship has vastly improved for a variety of reasons and as a result has systematically undermined, demolished and disproved the exegesis on which Calvinist ideas were based. Calvinist apologists have responded by attempting to fight scholarly biblical exegesis which has had a trickle down effect and infected their followers to "fight" for their gospel.
(E) It's a recent fad, it will pass like all fads do. Perhaps certain recent writers have contributed by writing works in an inflammatory fashion.
(F) The introduction of the internet has affected Calvinism in a way it hasn't affected other Christian denominations so much (probably because Calvinism focuses more on ideas rather than practice, which are thus more easily discussed).

So those are a range of possible factors that I can come up with. I'm left wondering if I've thought of the right factors, and if so, which of the factors I've thought of are the most important ones. My best guess at what I see as the most likely explanation is: Calvinism has lost massive ground in biblical studies in 30 years with the majority of conservative biblical scholars now agreeing that fundamental doctrines of creedal Calvinism were built on biblical misinterpretation, which has led popular Calvinist Apologists and Scholars to launch a defensive attack to "fight" for their gospel and so they see themselves as being on a war-footing which as a mindset has filtered down to their followers, and done so much more than it once would have as a result of the internet, and the situation has been worsened by a number of theological and cultural factors which cause Calvinists to be more than usually prone to this sort of behavior.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Paul vs Empire?

A recording of the SBL discussion-debate is available on the topic of whether Paul's letters were intentionally and deeply anti-Rome: here (scroll to the bottom of that post).
John Barclay takes the negative, Tom Wright the positive, and then Robert Jewett comments on both (and he is ultra-positive).

Though two focii of my studies have been Paul's theology and the socio-cultural background to the NT, a rather odd omission is that I virtually haven't looked at all at the topic of Paul and Empire. So I found the debate extremely interesting to listen to. I would tend to side with Barclay at this stage, but no doubt my view will nuance itself with study and time. I already had Horsley's Paul and Empire sitting in my waiting-to-be-read pile beside my bed (along with 12 other theology books sadly... why are there not more hours in the day?), so hopefully I will feel more informed after reading that.

I'm reading Milgrom's Leviticus at the moment, and have just finished Beckwith and Selman's Sacrifice in the Bible, so there may be some posts on sacrifices in the near future.